Ukraine adds embezzlement case to PrivatBank dispute; ex-CEO listed as suspect

KYIV, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Ukraine listed the former CEO of its largest bank and two other top former managers on Tuesday as suspects in an embezzlement case, the first criminal case opened in a long-running dispute over the bank whose nationalisation dominates domestic politics.

The fate of PrivatBank has overshadowed Ukraine’s politics and relationship with international lenders since the lender was declared insolvent and seized by the state in 2016. Its former owner, Igor Kolomoisky, has fought to reverse its nationalisation, leading to hundreds of lawsuits.

International lenders such as the IMF, which supported the nationalisation at the time, have suggested they would end support for Kyiv if PrivatBank’s nationalisation is reversed. The IMF wants Kyiv to claw back billions of dollars given to the bank to bail out depositors before it was seized.

Pictures released on Ukrainian media showed a former deputy head of the bank, Volodymyr Yatsenko, being arrested at Kyiv’s Boryspol airport on Monday.

Ukraine’s NABU anti-corruption agency, said it was investigating crimes including the embezzlement of nearly $5 million, and was looking into three suspects. It did not release their names but identified one as the CEO of the bank at the time it was nationalised, who is Oleksandr Dubilet.

It said two of the suspects were believed to be living abroad, while one had been arrested at the airport in Kyiv while attempting to flee to Austria in a private jet.

Reuters was not immediately able to locate lawyers for Dubilet or Yatsenko for comment, or determine the identity of the third suspect. PrivatBank declined to comment. Kolomoisky, owner of the bank at the time of the alleged embezzlement, could not be reached.

PrivatBank’s fate has been closely watched by investors as a test of President Volodymyr Zekenskiy’s willingness to push on with reforms and tackle entrenched corruption in the eastern European country. Zelenskiy rose to prominence as a comedian on a TV station owned by Kolomoisky, but has denied that he has personal ties to the businessman.

Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told Reuters last week that legal cases surrounding PrivatBank should be completed this year. (Editing by Matthias Williams and Peter Graff)